Trail Accelerator Grant: A Case Study
The community of Columbus, Georgia, is much like the ecology of the Standing Boy property: diverse, capable of attracting talent, and filled with recreational and cultural opportunities that enrich those that visit.
The property is one of the most ecologically diverse properties in the region. It’s on the fall line, an imaginary line between two parallel rivers, that serves as a dividing point between three elevation regions: mountain, piedmont and coastal plain. “The bedrock geology provides a great base for an amazingly rocky trail system for its area and these three major ecozones are ecologically rich with different species,” said IMBA Trail Solutions Project Manager, Steve Kasacek.
That diverse ecology includes a considerable deposit of saw palmetto, a small, striking palm that fans out like an emerald fin stretching skyward from the earth. This plant lines much of the most popular singletrack built so far at Standing Boy and serves as the graphic mark for the non-profit that manages the property. Suppose the property's ecology represents the community, then Standing Boy Inc. is most certainly the saw palmetto: resilient and slowly building groups of supporters throughout the community of Columbus.
Diversifying & Generalizing
Although the idea for Standing Boy Trails began with the mountain bikers of Chattahoochee Valley SORBA, to garner widespread support for the multi-user trail system, the group needed to form a user group-neutral team. “I was the secretary of the local SORBA chapter when talks first began [about Standing Boy],” said Blake Melton, chair of Standing Boy Inc. To be able to attract more diverse types of donors, the core group behind Standing Boy knew they needed to branch out from the local SORBA chapter. “We didn’t want to go out to the community with a mountain bike group; we wanted something more holistic, and there wasn’t [a group] that existed,” said Blake.
Read More on the History of Standing Boy
Funding The System
In 2018, Blake sought out the help of The Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley to get started with fundraising. “The Community Foundation is very well respected; people are very familiar with giving there, and it gave us a lot of credibility,” said Blake.
Community Foundations can be found all over the country (and the world) - these are community-based 501(c)(3) vehicles for philanthropic giving and contain a variety of different funds. “People that see an opportunity to make their community better are the people that make the world go round,” said Betsy Covington, president, and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley, “Blake Melton is the perfect example of this.”
When Blake approached Betsy, she wasn’t sure if mountain biking was a good fit for the organization. “I was watching the videos of the semi-pros and wasn’t convinced. But Blake explained that mountain biking and a trail system like Standing Boy serve families, kids, walkers, dog walkers and more,” said Betsy. The more the Community Foundation heard how Standing Boy fit into the puzzle of Columbus, the more inspired they were to make it happen.
SBI and the Trails
Now, Standing Boy Inc. (SBI) is a self-supported 501(c)(3) organization. SBI’s primary mission for the property goes far beyond self-gratification recreation – it centers around community ownership, support, and activation of the property. In fact, nowhere in the mission statement does the phrase “mountain biking” exist. Unlike the forming of many new trail systems, Standing Boy isn’t a grassroots effort. “Up until now, it’s been raising the money and negotiating with land managers,” said Blake,” our biggest challenge has been shifting focus to the community, group rides, etc.”
The same year Blake teamed up with the Community Foundation, IMBA Trail Solutions completed master planning and returned in early 2019 to flag 25 miles and construct a 30-car parking lot/trailhead. “From 2019 through the end of 2020, we built 7.2 miles of trail, including beginner, bi-directional shared-use trail and a 1-mile beginner bike-only gravity descent,” said Steve. From there, Phase 2 was immediately signed and 6.6 more miles of trail in the form of an intermediate cross-country loop were constructed in 2020.
The challenge of activating the community came with the timing of uncontrollable factors: a tornado destroyed one segment of trail in late 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic reached the area by March 2020. However, the master plan’s call for the construction of beginner-friendly trails first, proved to be the key to attracting the community. “The green trails are truly green,” said Blake, “That was a big point of emphasis with us and maybe one of the best things that IMBA Trail Solutions did.” Per the master plan, SBI opened the first miles of green trail in early 2020.
“If you want the community to support you and you want people to give you over 2 million dollars in private money, you have to do what’s best for the community; you can’t build what you want to ride first,” said Blake.
Today and Advice
From 2020 until now, Standing Boy has been embraced by the Columbus community – totally organically. “Being able to tell people that we have a 30-35 car lot and it's not big enough [to hold everyone] is the clearest way to express the support the community has for this system,” said Blake. As of 2022, 2.4 million dollars have been raised, over 25 miles have been built, and the region’s first intermediate jump line was finished in late spring. The final master plan calls for 35 miles of trail and a progressive system for any riding ability. “[Upon completion] multiple experiences will exist from backcountry lakeside rides to rocky tech climbs, to gnarly rocky downhills and flowing contour beginner trail,” said Steve. SBI’s goal is to have all 35 miles finished by the end of 2023.
Much like the slow-growing saw palmetto that populates the property at Standing Boy, the efforts for this trail system are 31 years in the making. But, like anything beautiful and beneficial, it has been worth it to the team at Standing Boy Inc. and all those supporters that came before this core group to make this project a reality. Blake passed along this advice for any trail champions looking to make similar moves in their communities: Know your community - you’re not going to get anywhere without community support. Think creatively - don’t be scared to do things a little bit differently. Focus on relationships – your PowerPoint isn’t going to be so brilliant that you don’t have to form solid relationships. And you’re going to be frustrated - embrace the hurdles and see the bigger picture.